Rose Bud senior phenom Joley Mitchell has set the Arkansas high school softball scene ablaze since her freshman season, making three trips to the state finals with the Lady Ramblers while also breaking numerous state records across the board. This past Thursday afternoon, the slugger signed her national letter of intent to continue her softball career with prestigious NCAA Division I University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana.
“This is absolutely unreal,” exclaimed Mitchell. “Nobody can imagine the love I have for Notre Dame. I never thought that a kid like me from Rose Bud, Arkansas, would end up in one of the most prestigious schools in the nation. My dream of playing at an amazing school is coming true just like I had it planned in my head.”
Mitchell’s freshman season consisted of batting .538 with 57 hits, 49 runs, 38 RBI, 18 doubles and eight home runs, as the Lady Ramblers got a taste of what postseason success was to come in a trip to the 2016 Class 3A state title game against rival Bald Knob, falling 1-0 and finishing 27-8.
The team battled back in 2017, overcoming a deficit in the state finals to the Lady Bulldogs and winning 6-4, snapping Bald Knob’s streak of three straight state championships, claiming the school’s first state crown in the sport in the process. Mitchell’s numbers improved, as she hit .578 with 59 hits, 65 runs, 33 RBI, 11 doubles, six triples and 13 home runs on the 30-5 campaign.
Returning many starters from the state title team in 2018, Rose Bud marched back to the finals, falling to Benton Harmony Grove 4-2 in an extra-innings decision, concluding the season at 31-2, with a final MaxPreps ranking of second in the state of Arkansas and 63rd in the entire nation. Mitchell turned in her best offensive season thus far, hitting a jaw-dropping .659 with 56 hits, 82 runs, 71 RBI, and 24 home runs, most of which led the state and competed with the national lead.
Also coming for Mitchell was an honor very few get selected for: The MaxPreps National Player of the Year. Adding on to that was All-American selections from numerous organizations from across the nation.
Mitchell credited ND coach Deanna Gumpf and the atmosphere of the campus as her biggest influences to don the blue and gold.
“The campus itself is breathtaking. The Golden Dome really steals the show. It looks amazing in pictures, but it’s so unbelievable in person. The campus is small which makes me feel comfortable since I came from a small school in a small town. But the best part of it all is the team. The coaching staff treats us like their own children and would do anything to make sure we are happy. Coach Deanna Gumpf is the purest human I have ever met. She has a great heart and is the main reason I chose ND.”
The potential to link back up with friends and former teammates also sparked the interest of Mitchell in her decision to make the move up north.
“I have a former teammate who is a freshman this year at ND (Quinn Biggio), two current teammates who will be attending ND with me (Leea Hanks and Alex McManus (Alex attends Bentonville West)), and a current teammate who will come to ND in 2020 (Karina Gaskins). Knowing that I have a family that will go with me and a family that I will get to know once I get there is so comforting and is just want in the home that I choose to attend for the next four years.”
The community of Rose Bud has served as amongst the biggest supporters for Mitchell from the first time she ever laced up the cleats, as being able to make so many historic memories wearing the school’s colors will always hold a special place in her heart.
“Wearing red, white and black has been one of the biggest blessings. Nobody understands how wonderful our small town is. We are all like family and support each other in everything we do. Not only is the town amazing, but our softball teammates truly have the biggest hearts. We are all so close and the support I have received from them through the entire recruiting process cannot be topped. I would not want to go to high school anywhere else and would never wish to change anything that has happened in Rose Bud.
The 2012 Lady Rambler state runner-up team served as positive examples in the minds of Mitchell and her peers.
“Our softball team in recent years has reached new heights, even before I got there. I think the 2012 team that went to the state finals showed us as fifth and sixth graders that playing in the state finals was the coolest opportunity that we could ever be a part of. As ten and eleven year olds, we all went to work and wanted to be just like the 2012 team and make it to the state finals as many times as possible. I think after the 2016 state finals loss to Bald Knob, we knew that we had to be better, not just as players, but as a family. We never gave up and never laid down. I am so happy that I can say that I was part of the greatest softball era in Rose Bud history.”
When asked what she hoped to bring to a strong Fighting Irish program, Mitchell stated that she wanted to be a reliable teammate and use her athletic ability to help the team hoist a national championship trophy in Oklahoma City.
“I hope that I can bring my athletic ability to the table for the Irish, but I hope that I can bring energy and be the best teammate that I can be. I want nothing more than to play on a team who can bond like no other and compete like no other team like they always do. I just want to bring a national championship back to South Bend.”
Shifting gears back to Rose Bud, Mitchell believes the 2019 Lady Ramblers will contend for a fourth consecutive trip to the state title game and for a second championship ring, but hard work and dedication at the highest level will be the expectation to make the dream a reality.
“I do think our team has a good chance this year, but we will have to work harder than we did in the past three years to achieve our goal of another state championship. I want nothing more than a perfect season and a ring at the end of it all. We need to work together as a team, hype up each other when we are down, and never give up when we fail. That will be the key for the Rose Bud softball team this spring.”
Despite having one final season to play, Mitchell already owns three state records to her name, including most home runs in a season with 24, most runs scored in a season with 82 and highest slugging percentage in a season with 1.658, as she currently sits in second place in career home runs with 45, second in career slugging percentage with 1.245, second in career runs scored with 196, second in career batting average with .587, fifth in career hits with 172 and seventh in career doubles with 38.
Mitchell thanked her parents Alexis and Skip as well as her coaches and her teammates for their help in getting her to this point in her career.
“I definitely want to thank my parents. They have sacrificed time and money to let me live out my dream of being a ball player. I get to travel the country year-round and my parents make sure that I make every single tournament no matter the circumstances. None of this would have happened if my dad didn’t take all of his time to throw front toss to me, play catch with me, and tell me to run sprints every day. My dad is my motivator, and I think everyone knows that. They know the lengths he went to make all of this possible. He works hard and makes me work hard to be the version of myself. Notre Dame would be a long shot if my parents didn’t push me to be the best ball player, student and person. I want to thank Coach [Scotty] Starkey, Coach [Joey] Pruitt and my Rose Bud teammates for being the biggest fans and best team that I could ask for. I also want to thank all of my travel ball coaches and teammates that I have ever had. None of this would be possible if they weren’t some of the best people that I have ever encountered.”
For young girls hoping to further their education and softball career, Mitchell offered her best advice.
“For all of the little girls that dream of playing college softball: Never give up on your dream. Do what it takes to be the best softball player you can be. I will preach this one day to my kids and maybe to the athletes I coach. My dad taught me that hard work and dedication will always pay off, no matter what you are doing. If your path takes a turn, don’t walk backwards. Just because it gets stressful at one time doesn’t mean it won’t work out in the end. I experienced this myself just recently. I prayed and prayed until Notre Dame came along. Notre Dame completes me, and there is a college out there that wants softball players that grind and have a passion for the game. Do not ever think that you aren’t good enough and never stop practicing to be the best player you can be. Every single ball hit off of the tee and every ground ball caught and thrown means something. Never take the practices, tears, blood and sweat for granted. All of the yelling, bruises, and tiredness is the difference in being good and great. I may not have been grateful for all of those things when I was eight, but I surely promise you that I wish I could be yelled at more so that I could be better. You can always run faster, hit harder, and love the game more passionately than you already do.”
The 2019 graduate will join a Fighting Irish program that has punched tickets to 20 straight NCAA Tournament appearances that date back to 1999. The 2018 squad went 34-23 with a trek to the NCAA Regional Tournament in Lexington, Kentucky.